Succeeding in Afghanistan

Introduction

“All anti-colonial struggles are at the core about two things, repossession of lost land and restoring the centrality of indigenous culture…."[1]

The notion of “colonialism” is defined as a centralized system in which the elites run the system for their own benefit, bleeding the economy of resources and so stunting growth and depriving the local society of just administration.  The ethnicity or nationality of the ruling elites doesn’t matter.  In fact the concept of “internal colonialism” – colonization by fellow citizens – has been an accepted part of development theory for more than half a century and certainly defines the situation in Afghanistan today.

Not recognizing the truth of this opening quote is at the heart of Western failures in confronting insurgencies since Vietnam until today.  The truth of it can be found by dissecting most revolutionary movements.  Boring down past the ideological superstructure that most “civilized” countries use to justify their occupation of “uncivilized” lands will almost always expose a lack of economic opportunity and social justice.  Missing the truth of the Nkwinti quote highlights a fundamental inadequacy in how the West manages postwar stability operations, how it counters insurgencies, and even how it creates their foreign aid programs.

Our modern sensibilities often impose a concern for the social and economic rights of indigenous cultures.  However, when the West has substantial direct or indirect influence over poor countries, this concern is often manifested as unbalanced support for a strong central government, usually without respect to the existing political traditions.  This leads to a confusion between sovereignty and self-government, two very different things.

After the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we seemed to believe that we are supporting these indigenous cultures by seeking to quickly restoring their sovereignty.[2]  However, this course compels us to focus on the central government’s authority over the political economy, inevitably leading to a top-down process of administration, an approach that tends to reflect Western culture and is more likely to be an artifact of the colonial model of administration.

As a result, we ignore the political economy of the village.  Scholars have studied village life for generations and know that, left alone, village government has a structure reflecting – in some manner – popular consent, and individual land rights, which is the most basic issue for most villagers.  A landmark study of village life in India notes, “Most cases brought before the court have to do with land boundaries.[3]  This is the sort of thing that matters to the average citizen who is part of a small, often isolated micro-economy.

Even today in the face of a 2014 pullout, Western political leaders are in general agreement that the war in Afghanistan must be “won,” but they are operating under a set of strategic objectives that are unclear and often conflicting.  This creates a process to define their objectives that is faulty and so leads to programs that are ineffective.  Even though most troops will be gone, billions of dollars in programs will continue with opaque methods and purposes.  This persistent lack of strategic clarity deprived us of any chance of success in Vietnam, and is being repeated today in Afghanistan thus putting the West’s enterprise there at dire risk. 

Our leaders who formulate policies aimed at confronting persistent insurgencies often rely on the historic record for examples of stability operations running in parallel with counterinsurgency (COIN) programs.  Although there are useful historic examples, when the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan moved from counter-terrorism to COIN the tendency was to concentrate on the lessons from the Vietnam War.  But COIN in Vietnam offers us an inadequate model because analysts have consistently misread the history of that conflict.

In the end, we failed in Vietnam because we did not understand that a political consensus is always built from the periphery into the center, and that modern economies can only be built from the bottom up.  But if we ignore village life – or try to bend it to our view of what it should be – we will fail in Afghanistan as we did in Vietnam.

Because we misread Vietnam’s history we have been repeating these same mistakes in Afghanistan where our policies generally are aimed at building a political economy from top down, and it will not work.  This paper will consider these deficiencies and try to suggest alternative approaches to defining, planning and executing our policies and programs.

Current Counterinsurgency Policies

The new “conventional wisdom” about COIN doctrine is useful as far as it goes.  But insurgencies are contests between competing visions of government.  If you strip away the rhetoric – ours and theirs – it’s all about power.  Although Western governments always seek to extend or defend constitutional democracy we are centuries removed from those who actually created modern governments.  As a result, today we tend to reduce the process to its superstructure – the part we can see such as elections, courts, stock markets, and law books – but then ignore its foundation that is a social consensus.

The basic philosophy underlying all our modern political economies was first articulated by John Locke who wrote, “The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[4]  This can only be done by an effective legal code.  So effective aid, not our “stuff”, begins with a basic system of rules common to every modern economy.  This set of rules is necessary, though hardly sufficient.

Yet nowhere in our current COIN strategy do we find policies or programs which reflect this clear and unequivocal statement.  To help Afghans plan and build a modern nation they need tools which will work and this requires that we understand these basic concepts on which all modern political economies have been built.  Effective tools are necessary to operationalize our stated objectives such as rule-of-law, good governance, stimulation of self-sustaining economic growth, and combating corruption.

According to the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who published National Defense Strategy in June 2008, the outgoing Bush administration’s policy was defined very precisely.  In it Gates wrote:

Beyond security, essential ingredients of long-term success include economic development, institution building, and the rule of law, as well as promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications. We as a nation must strengthen not only our military capabilities, but also reinvigorate other important elements of national power and develop the capability to integrate, tailor, and apply these tools as needed. We must tap the full strength of America and its people.

Mr. Obama kept Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, so it should be no surprise that his policies are similar those of Mr. Bush, and closely follow the COIN strategy applied in Vietnam.  So what does this mean in operational terms?   In Vietnam, as in Afghanistan, we used Provincial Reconstruction Teams to attempt to “clear and hold,” although we now add the word “develop” to this slogan. And as in Vietnam, instead of having a coherent strategy that is soundly applied, what we have is laundry-list of vague nation-building objectives, hardly different from those which define our general approach to foreign aid, a program that has consistently failed to stimulate the rise of modern economies over decades of peacetime aid beginning after WWII. 

As we should have learned in Vietnam slogans are not enough.  How do we implement a strategy of “winning hearts and minds?”  Our track record of success on the ground in Vietnam was dismal largely because we lacked clarity of purpose about our true objectives.  And now we are repeating these same errors in Afghanistan.  So the first step is to gain greater clarity about our strategy.

State or Nation?

Do we want to build a nation or a state?  A nation is people in a particular area who share a consensus, expressed through a variety of institutions, about their identity.  Meanwhile the state is the apparatus a nation uses to manage its affairs.  As Max Weber says in Politics as a Vocation “…a state (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”  Do we just want a client state that protects our interests?  If so, then by Weber’s definition a counter-insurgent policy focused on training security forces should be sufficient, and a number of commentators argue that this is what we are now doing in Afghanistan, despite Gates’ grander statement.[5]   A state structure can be forced on a population from the top, but a nation must coalesce from the bottom.  Which do we want?

Insurgents or Insurgency?

In Iraq the Coalition was nearly beaten by an insurgency due to a feckless occupation that was largely unplanned and mindlessly administered.  In both Iraq and Afghanistan we did not even define a COIN strategy for nearly six years and so initially we engaged in counter-insurgent operations much like in Vietnam, just without the daily body-counts.

And just as in post-Tet Vietnam, we have now shifted our COIN doctrine in Afghanistan from one that is “terrain-centric” to one which is “population-centric.”  This approach seeks to “pacify” the population rather than just kill insurgents, although we now call it “nation-building” instead of “pacification.”  But despite different terms, US policies are very similar to the CORDS effort Vietnam, which the Petraeus COIN strategy actually acknowledged.[6]

Sovereignty or Democracy?

In Afghanistan we used the UN as cover and rushed to reestablish sovereignty rather than good government.  Japan however did not regain sovereignty for seven years yet she never lost self-government.  Japan’s final wartime prime minister continued to run Japan after the war.  He left when he resigned over a policy disagreement.

However, in South Vietnam we kept the fiction of independence which, just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, gave enormous leverage to the elites whose political and economic agenda was different from ours.  This was a key element of the American loss in Vietnam and has developed similarly in Afghanistan where a thoroughly corrupt administration has been looting American aid for a decade.

In Japan we helped the people organize themselves at the grassroots so that they were able to fashion the institutions of a modern political economy well before full sovereignty was returned to them.  But because Afghanistan is sovereign, we necessarily must focus our efforts on the center, not the grassroots.  Former ISAF Commander Stanley McChrystal’s 30 August 2009 “Initial Assessment” says “There is little connection between the central government and the local populations, particularly in rural areas.  The top-down approach to developing government capacity has failed to produce services that reach local communities.”[7]

Democracy or Elections?

Converting the Afghans’ weak sense of nationhood into a modern state requires more than simply tallying votes.  Elections are just the mechanism to institutionalize and record a social consensus, but they don’t create it.  McChrystal’s report said, “The Afghan Government has not integrated or supported traditional community governance structures…”[8]  But McChrystal’s “government-in-a-box” is an artifact of the center, not a manifestation of popular will, and so has largely become just another expensive, but pointless exercise.

Capitalism or a Market Economy?

A simple market economy is any system of private exchange while “capitalism” is a highly efficient version of a market economy.  Its essence is an enforceable rule-set which has sufficient strength to govern contracts for future actions.  While elites in poor countries have some options to enforce nominal rules of commerce, 70-80% of the economic activity in poor countries is almost totally informal or extralegal with enforcement based on a social consensus or physical force.

Making Rules or the Rule of Law?

Endemic poverty and corruption reflect the absence of enforceable rules for governing society.  All societies have rules, but in a pre-modern society these rules are informal and applied in a limited area, sometime no more than the two parties to a transaction.  Modern political economies, on the other hand, create and maintain their rules through a system of laws. 

But when foreign experts speak of the “rule-of-law” in failed states it nearly always refers criminal law which is the “thou-shalt-not” rules.  While understanding what you cannot do is the first part of Locke’s formula, the main role of law is to provide rules about what you can do, largely in pursuit of commerce.

A common rule-set is essential for governing commerce in a large, impersonal marketplace.  However, no poor country anywhere has true rule of law.  This confers on the political system the power to make and adjudicate the rules of commerce and property.  Absent the rule of law, ad hoc political intervention is the only viable source of rules of commerce.  So merging rule-making with governing means that the political process in poor countries usually becomes a zero-sum game aimed at claiming spoils, not governing well or sharing power.  Westerners often marvel that poor people kill one another over a mayoral election in some tropical backwater.  But the reason is that a change in political power is not just an inconvenient disappointment now and then, but it has existential dimensions.

Solvency or Illiquidity?

Because of Western governments focus on support for the central government, the basis of our aid is to deal with the problem of government insolvency, because governments need a lot of cash to function as a government, especially in wartime.  So essentially aid becomes funding aimed at keeping the government afloat.  In other words, creating a state, not a nation.  Catalytic capital financing to effect a transition to modernity is a secondary concern, if even a true concern at all.

But the truth of it is that the West hasn’t got enough money to fund a process of national modernization even for the many small countries that remain mired in poverty despite decades of aid.  Transferring funds to pay for specific development projects is the false lesson of the Marshall Plan whose success in Europe came to define the Bretton Woods agreements and then, eventually, confuse all our development aid.[9]  Large, short-term infusions of capital to supplement the public budget in order to pay for ministries or schools or clinics are not what poor countries need to modernize.

But the truth is that most poor countries are rich in both resources (human and natural) and capital.  The problem is that this capital is frozen or illiquid, locked up by bureaucracies that do not understand a process of growth, a process that is essentially autonomous, driven by individual entrepreneurs not by governments or aid programs.  We need generals and bureaucrats that can read history.  Real, self-sustaining economic growth, and therefore ultimately government operations, must be largely funded by existing capital that is unlocked from the indigenous economy, not replaced with bits of foreign aid.

Helping Build a Nation

The Dean of Columbia Business School, commenting on a $7.5 billion in US aid to Pakistan asked if anyone implementing that aid “…actually knows how to successfully spend these funds?”  He answers by saying that “…foreign aid has been a spectacular failure in promoting social and economic development.”[10]

Gen. McChrystal’s August ‘09 report lists “11 Transformative Effects” which are population security, justice, transparency, elections, jobs, agricultural expansion, and local government with the rest dealing with security issues.  But this is just another laundry-list, not a plan.

A manual from the US Joint Forces Command talks about a “toolbox” to pursue McChrystal’s transformative objectives but doesn’t offer any practical actions.  In fact, just two pages (out of 60) are devoted to these tools, which are yet another laundry-list of general categories without any strategic or operational substance.[11]

William Easterly details how we have provided well over $2 trillion in aid to poor countries in the last 60 years but have no graduates from the aid dole.[12]  Those countries which have modernized – Taiwan, Korea, Chile, South Africa, and Singapore – did so because they were denied aid for political reasons and so had to rationalize their economies, which they did by creating the legal and institutional framework necessary for real capitalism.

George Dunlop, formerly the deputy in charge of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ massive construction program in Iraq, wrote, “It is a big mistake to spend enormous sums of money to build large-scale government-run infrastructure projects in highly destabilized regions.”[13]  But spend money is what we do because it is how we measure success.

When Hillary Clinton made her first official visit to Afghanistan as Secretary of State in early 2009 she pronounced our aid efforts there to be a “heart-breaking failure,” and an op-ed later questioned whether she will ever do better using traditional aid mechanisms:

Our own research…found … that there was very little evidence of aid projects winning hearts and minds or promoting stability. This should not come as a surprise; after all, the major factors perceived to be fueling insecurity have little to do with a lack of social services or infrastructure. Instead, one of the main reasons given by the Afghans we interviewed for the growing insurgency was their corrupt and unjust government. [14]

Real economic development, starts at the grassroots and grows when fueled by millions of autonomous economic decisions made every day by entrepreneurs seeking advantage in an imperfect market.  Managed development has failed to work in even peaceful states despite spending trillions.  Our approach in Japan worked because we understood that “development” is a process, not a condition, and it cannot be achieved by filling gaps with “money and things.”  Can we avoid more heart-breaking failure?  Sadly, it seems the answer we give is “More of the same.”

Organizing the Occupation

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) reported that the planning process was a mixture of incompetence, ignorance, competition over turf, petulance and willful sabotage by bureaucratic competitors (even within same departments).  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of soldiers died and billions were wasted because the bureaucracy couldn’t agree on what to do, how to do it, and who was responsible.[15]

Similarly, there was no plan for the occupation of Afghanistan despite the military’s fame for its “contingency planning” ability. By contrast three weeks after Pearl Harbor President Roosevelt ordered the government to begin planning for the occupation of all enemy countries.  This whole-of-government process created an effective plan for every aspect of political and economic activity in the defeated countries.

General Jay Garner (the man in charge of the occupation of Iraq) learned of the existence of the Pentagon’s occupation planning office “…just before the invasion when one of his aides happened across it by chance.”[16]    And the State Department was brooding about being shut out of the process with one senior official quoted as saying their zeitgeist was “If you don’t want us, we are not going to play the game.”[17]  Sadly, their “game” was about turf, not about success their scoreboard was tallied in lives and money.

A War Department memo during WWII noted that “A policy which does not win the continuing support of the American public is doomed to failure.  The American public will unquestionably become restive under a prolonged occupation [and] demands for withdrawal are likely to begin within 6 months after the surrender of Japan and thereafter to build up increasing political pressure to that end.”[18]  Every major reform in Japan – including the constitution and land reform – had been implemented within five months following the US government plan.  Nevertheless, sovereignty was withheld for seven years.

Development at the Fringes

Ultimately, the conflict in Afghanistan will be decided in the rural areas where insurgents get safe haven, supplies, money, intelligence and recruits.  We seemed to understand that when the Army’s Agribusiness Development Teams (ADTs) and the central government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) began small, village-level efforts.  These ADTs went to the periphery and provided direct support to farmers for the entire agricultural cycle – from seed to market – but also gave the security to engage in self-defense against the Taliban.

These ADTs were not social engineers trying to impose an expert vision on local farmers, but are agriculturalists who aim to help refine existing production.  Their impact on the economy and security is noteworthy.  Over several years, none of the ADT’s improvements have been damaged, no cooperating farmers have been threatened, and none of the ADTs or their base camps had been attacked.

The ADT program shows that successful COIN hinges mainly on economic factors where people are involved in self-sustaining economic growth that is based on a livelihood, not handouts. Most Afghans live in the rural areas near the real economy, which is where the war will be won or lost.[19]   Nevertheless, more than eight years after removing the Taliban, civilian experts still cannot go to the periphery on a sustained basis.  So instead of supporting the real economy, we waste $103 million in AID funds building a headquarters for the Ministry of Agriculture, something which is unable to do anything useful for the farmers.

The Evolution of COIN and Stability Operations

For more than half a century we fought a Cold War against Leninism, but hot wars against Maoism. The critical difference is due, in part, to the fact that we let revolutionary leaders define their actions, but ignore those who were actually in revolt.  With rare candor Mao tse Tung told Andre Malraux that his Communists "...organized the peasant revolt but we did not instigate it."[20]  Essentially he admitted that China’s peasants were spontaneously in revolt against the Kuomintang and the warlords.  Mao just created the narrative of their discontent and then an appealing – but false – formula to fix it.

The slogan that Mao rode to power – “land to the tiller” – addressed the lack of private property rights, not the promise of collectivization.  This idea of private property has been resonating in poor countries for centuries and fueled most of those revolts that we try to study today.

Superficially, Mao’s historic revision of Leninist revolutionary theory shifted the focus from the industrial under-class to the rural under-class, the peasants.  But the more fundamental shift was from jobs to land.  Napoleon Bonaparte said, "A good cadastre will be my greatest achievement in my civil law.”  He understood the seminal nature of property rights in stabilizing a political economy, as did his enemies who handed out property rights to gain allegiance from the peasants to confront Napoleon.

We have consistently misunderstood Maoism and so the lessons we glean from history do not reflect the objective circumstances of the revolts we aim to counter.  Today we confront radical Islam, but again we are letting the leaders define the conflict.  We must understand why people rebel, not why leaders who are seeking power exploit instability. Until we understand what drives a person to take up arms we can’t fashion an effective COIN strategy.

All poor people require a narrative to explain why they are poor.  Their personal narrative-of-poverty if often unfocused and so varies considerably.  But when a charismatic would-be leader is able to offer a credible explanation, the narrative may become more focused. And when this narrative is shared by enough people it can become a political tool whose power is magnified in an age when affluence is flagrant and so the disparity is seen as a social rather than personal failure.

If those grievances, which are illuminated by this new explanation, can’t be redressed by peaceful social processes then “politics by other means” or violence can be fomented.  If we accept the insurgent leader’s narrative we will spend our time proving we are not Christian crusaders bent on destroying Islam.  But if we learn the true narrative we can address the root cause of insurgency.

In 2002 Newsweek magazine published a prescient analysis of the failed states in the Middle East.  They explained that their failure was not due to the rise of Islam, but to central planning, stifling regulation, no property rights, so no mortgages, and so a lack of liquidity throughout the region that choked off growth.  The Arab Spring began when a roadside fruit seller immolated himself after a municipal inspector confiscated his produce.  Talk to any Arab businessman and he will trace the root of the problem back to dying capital markets.[21] It is widely believed that contracting economies and joblessness have been the root cause of the Arab Spring, not radical Islam.  As with Mao in China, the Salafists had the organization and have taken over the revolutions.

Postwar Japan:  Although no organized insurgency ever broke out in Japan stability was far from certain.  After 20 years underground the Communist Party of Japan was legalized in 1945.  Its strength was with the peasantry because, as MacArthur said, “Most Farmers in Japan were either out-and-out serfs, or they worked under an arrangement through which the landowners exorbited [sic] a high percentage of each year’s crops.”[22] Farm production was so low that MacArthur sent a cable to Washington saying “Send me rice or send me bullets” later adding that “Men will fight before they starve.”[23]

But the land reforms – implemented three months after the occupation began – completely changed the rural economy.  MacArthur later stated that this program was “One of the most far-reaching accomplishments of the occupation…” [by which] “Japan was transferred from a feudal economy of impoverished serfs and tenant farmers into a nation of free landholders.”[24]

And in order to distribute land the government empowered 11,000 farmers’ associations which later became political organizations that even today are the bedrock of Japanese politics.  Japan’s political and economic transformation began on the periphery and moved to the center.

The Muslim Insurgency in Colonial Philippines:  At the end of the Spanish-American War the Christians in the North accepted the US occupation but the Muslims (“Moros”) in the South resisted.  The South had never been fully controlled by the Spanish (nor later by the Japanese) and a fifteen year insurgency started.

Although it ended as a military stalemate it was a COIN success when in 1913 the peace treaty integrated the South into the Philippine state for the first time in history.  Within 20 years the US administration in the South became so popular that all Moro political and religious leaders petitioned FDR not to grant Moroland independence but rather to maintain it as an American protectorate.  This success has lessons for policy-makers in Afghanistan.[25]

The Huk Rebellion in the Philippines:  The Huks were mainly peasant farmers and then, as today, land was the foundation of economic and, thus, political power.  So when the US gave independence to the Philippines in 1946, the landlords demanded back rents and shares of the crops, while the landed elites began seizing property from poor farmers for large plantations.  So the Huks began to use force to defend their property.

But the defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay (advised by American Ed Lansdale) understood how the peasants were being abused.  They fashioned a very simple solution; the “ten-centavo telegram” which were delivered directly to Magsaysay’s office requesting “…gratis legal assistance by Philippines Judge Advocate lawyers to poor farmers in cases before the land court.”[26]  This legal aid played a decisive role in stabilizing land tenure and reducing the grievances of the peasants against the government which, in due course, caused the Huk insurgency to wither.

The Second Moro War:  A decade after the Huk rebellion ended, land again played the key role in fomenting rebellion.  In the Moro areas Christians from the North began using the Moro’s informal tenure rights to seize lands which quickly led to violent resistance as the Moros, like the Huks, organized militias solely to defend their property.  The resistance had nothing to do with religion, at least not in the beginning.  At first the Moro rebellion was led by the secular Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which sought the “…repossession of lost land and restoring the centrality of indigenous culture.”  This was the true narrative of poverty but the MNLF failed and this provided an opportunity for a new narrative.  In time the rebellion was taken over by Jihadists who recast the conflict in terms of their political agenda.

The Malayan Emergency:  This insurgency was fueled almost exclusively by Malaya’s Chinese residents who did not have the rights of citizenship, specifically the right to vote and own land.  As a result, most squatted in marginal areas on the edge of the jungle, working as day laborers or small traders.

The British authorities, who understood the true narrative, knew that they could not pacify hungry, disenfranchised people.  So the military developed the “New Villages Program” which moved most of the rural Chinese to new settlements, provided them with property rights and gave them the vote.  Just as with the HUKs, the revolt collapsed.

The Shining Path in Peru:  The Peruvian government destroyed the Maoist Shining Path in a matter of months mainly by providing property rights to coca farmers who often grew coca because they had no viable alternative; they were squatters who could not participate in government agricultural programs, and were also targets for confiscation whenever their farms became too valuable.

So without property rights the farmers were limited to fast-growing crops like coca, and to protect themselves they cooperated with the Shining Path who, like the Viet Cong, defended the peasants’ property in return for taxes which then financed the insurgency.

In response, the Peruvian government gave titles to the farmers who then turned on the insurgents.  As a result, the Shining Path’s 84,000 man “army” melted away, their income dried up, their safe havens disappeared, and their leaders were forced into cities where they were quickly arrested.  The elapsed time was six months.[27]

Vietnam:  Initially in South Vietnam the US approach was a counter-insurgent strategy made up by search and destroy sweeps, whose success was measured by body-counts.  But a number of senior leaders believed that US had to offer South Vietnam a more compelling narrative than the one offered by the Communists.  So in 1966 a US Army plan called PROVN laid out a program which detailed objectives that could apply to Afghanistan today;

The ultimate objective; a free and independent, non-communist nation. The United States must restructure, better manage and integrate its support effort; provide positive political guidance, under provisos for applying leverage and constraints; redirect the effort to achieve greater security; focus nonmilitary assistance to achieve cohesion within the Vietnamese society; and, orient socio-economic programs to exploit the critical geographic areas, population and resource concentration. PROVN submits that the United States and the Republic of Vietnam must accept the principle that success will be the sum of innumerable, small and integrated localized efforts and not the outcome of any short-duration, single master stroke.[28]

The Lessons from Vietnam:  A book analyzing the Vietnam War at the village level based on personal experience explains that “Enjoyment of the general prosperity…is tied closely to access to its source: the land.  No other factor looms so large in the consciousness of the peasant.”  The author goes on to say that “…for the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese population, ‘government’ has always simply meant the village council,” which under the French, and later the Americans, “…became an instrument of the landlords to maintain a privileged status above the law…”[29]

DeGaulle’s reoccupation of Indochina brought back the landlords who took away land that had been distributed to the peasants by the Viet Minh.  These landlords re-imposed taxes and sharecropping (normally 50%).  It is no surprise that the people hated this system, and so hated the government under both the French and later the US who did nothing to address this problem in a timely manner.  “Land redistribution was an integral part of the [Communist] Party takeover in the rural area [with] the promise of land being one of the principal means of obtaining a core of activists in each village to drive out the government authorities.”[30]

American efforts to promote democracy in Vietnam were also flawed.  As Lansdale reported, Diem took “…a step that was to have disastrous political consequences later.  In a decree he changed the old custom of village self-government and replaced it with a system of appointed leaders, the new village leaders being named by district and provincial chiefs, who themselves have been appointed by Diem.”  He then added, “It took away much of the local initiative upon which modern democracies are founded, transgressed the ancient Vietnamese edict that ‘the Emperor’s rule ends at the village wall…”[31]

Although both sides had a similar narrative – land and democracy – the Communists delivered and the US did not.  Saigon and the US promised democracy and capitalism but delivered an authoritarian, mercantilist state as is in Afghanistan today. 

Two books that were widely read in the Pentagon drew different lessons from Vietnam.  One argues that the US lost the war because the Congress withdrew support for their army.[32]  The other argues that the US could have won the war if the Army had applied the CORDS strategy in the villages, rather than search and destroy operations.[33]  However, in a 2004 paper the proponent of this latter model tempers his position saying “…the success of CORDS and pacification [is] …a mixed bag.”[34]

I would argue that this is largely a sterile debate; CORDS failed because the promises made to the Vietnamese people were largely unmet.  John Paul Vann – the head of CORDS in one of four Corps areas – wrote a strategy paper in the early days of CORDS that is consulted today by US planners.  It details the CORDS training plan followed by three single-spaced pages of “method.”[35]  This paper spawned the CORDS program that became yet another example of the American tendency to confuse spending money with providing help; to confuse form with function; and to confuse efficiency with outcomes.  CORDS was never a program, in any coherent sense, just a laundry-list of objectives devoid of operational substance, just as McChrystal’s plan was.

Nevertheless, today COIN experts widely credit CORDS – and its Phoenix program which targeted the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) – with having destroyed the VC insurgency.  While it is true that CORDS reduced the VC from 84,000 members in ’68 to an estimated 56,000 in ’72, this is a reduction by one-third, not its death.  VC power in the countryside was not killed by US success in CORDS or the Phoenix Program, but rather it died of neglect by Hanoi.  After the Tet Offensive, Hanoi’s strategy for the South was no longer based on a guerilla war.  Hanoi ordered the NVA take the lead in fighting the war and the evidence is well documented; from February to May 1968 Hanoi sent 50,000 soldiers to the South, a strategic shift which simply marginalized the VC as a fighting force.

Sorely writes, “It is correct that the VC’s forces were decimated during Tet, as demonstrated by the…necessity to bring NVA forces to fill formerly VC units.  Over a relatively short time the enemy’s forces went from three-quarters VC to three-quarters NVA, a dramatic reversal [which] essentially terminated the VC’s influence in the Communist movement.”  He adds, “But those forces were not the infrastructure, which continued to flourish until painstakingly rooted out over a period of years.[36]   This seems to be how CORDS is seen by the Petraus COIN strategy and the McChrysal plan as being a model for COIN. But he later notes, “...that by 70/71 the VC had virtually been exterminated.”[37]   So the problem with the conclusion that CORDS was a success is that post-Tet the fighting had been shifted to main force units and political organizing and taxing were irrelevant activities.

Sorely says as much when he notes that as a result of Tet, the “Communists in the South never recovered from the effects of these losses, progressively losing influence in a movement that was in any event directed and dominated by party leaders in North Vietnam.”  He adds that “When after many years of struggle North Vietnam prevailed, the VC found themselves relegated to positions of no importance.”[38]

CORDS is an ill-considered model for Afghanistan if our objective is to help them modernize.  Afghans must develop the inputs (the institutions) of democracy and capitalism, not the simply the outputs (elections and soccer stadiums) which are the result of those institutions working successfully. All successful COIN efforts began with understanding what the people really wanted.  With that knowledge Americans, the British and the Peruvians have created workable responses to insurgency.  We should read history closely, and emulate success.

Conclusion

There is no question that a state can be built from the top down, but a nation is built from villages and neighborhoods upward.  It is also true that planned economies, by their nature, can be imposed on a society.  But a broad-based, self-sustaining economy is built from the village inward.  Stabilizing the rural economy and supporting private entrepreneurship with credit and fair rules is crucial because in the end it is jobs and income which will determine whether most peasants will choose a gun or a plow, or whether he grows poppies or grapes.

History shows that political stability and economic viability begin with a system based on Locke’s classic formulation that governments’ purpose is to ensure “life, liberty and property.”  This is not some abstraction, but means, simply, government’s role is to protect your personal security, to insure your freedom to choose where to live and work, and to defend your property.

The first step to do this in Afghanistan would be to institute a system of land tenure based on the rule of law, which provides and incentive to have neighbors work together to settle their own boundaries and then deposit this settled data in a public land registry.  Those with a presence in rural Afghanistan – military or civilian – can help villages to establish property registries using satellite mapping and aerial photos.  But this should not be a process imposed or run by the central government, which is corrupt and would be incapable of impartially managing a process concerning such enormously valuable assets.

Just as in Japan and California these informal registries will allow the people to use this process to transform their mutual interest in stable tenure into grassroots political organizations whose purpose is to protect their new rights.  Rule-of-law can only be maintained if it is merged with the peoples’ most basic, mutual economic interests.

Then as the defender of popular laws, the Afghan state will gain greater political support while at the same time weaken the warlords as their control over land tenure diminishes.  In this way, the people will define and empower their state through common purpose not expert planning. 


[1] Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, South Africa.

[2] In South Vietnam we created the State of Vietnam, a constitutional monarchy.  According to the Geneva Accords of 1954 we agreed to engage in national elections in 1956 but the ”sovereign” state of Vietnam refused to participate and the US backed them.  The war began.

[3] W. Wiser and C. Wiser, Behind Mud Walls 1930-1960, University of California Press, Berkeley, pg. 207.

[4]  John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Chapter 9, R. Butler, London, 1821, pg. 295.

[5] Sheri Berman, “From the Sun King to Karzai,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010, pg.

[6] “CORDS” is an acronym for Civil Operations and Revolutionary (eventually changed to “Rural”) Development Support, which has been transformed by revisionist history into a success.

[7] Pg. 2-9.

[8] ibid.

[9] Peter F. Schaefer, “Nation Building from Scratch,” The Washington Post, December 27, 2002, pg. A25.

[10] Glenn Hubbard, Wall Street Journal, 13 Nov. 2009, pg. A19.

[11] US Government Draft Planning Framework for Reconstruction, Stabilization and Conflict Transformation, US Joint Forces Command J7 Pamphlet 1.0, 1 December 2005.

[12] See Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, passim and Lord Peter Bauer’s body of work.

[13] “Economic Empowerment Tasks for Stability Operations,” in Stability Operations and State-Building, US Army Strategic Studies Institute, Oct. 2008, pg. 197.

[14] Andrew Wilder and Stuart Gordon, “Money Can’t Buy America Love,” Foreign Policy online, 1 Dec. 2009, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/12/01/money_cant_buy_america_love?page=0,1

[15] See Hard Lessons, SIGIR, Feb. 2009, especially chapters 2 and 3 passim.

[16] Ibid. pg. 36.

[17] Ibid. pg. 37.

[18] Peter F. Schaefer, Foreign Policy online, June 2008, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4325&page=1

[19] Agriculture alone employs 80% of the population and creates 45% of the GDP.

[20] Andre Malraux, Anti-Memoirs, Holt, Reinhart & Winston, New York, 1968, Pg. 360.

[21] Newsweek magazine, Oct. 6, 2002, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2002/10/06/slow-death.html.

[22]  MacArthur, pg. 313.

[23] Ibid. pg. 309.

[24] Ibid, pg.313

[25] See a discussion by the author in “Repeating History,” the DC Examiner, 20 Jan. 2006, pg. 17.

[26] Edward G. Lansdale, In the Midst of Wars, Harper & Row, New York, pgs. 47-48.

[27] De Soto, Hernando, The Other Path, Basic Books, 2002 reissue, pp. xi – xxxix.

[28] An abstract from the Defense Technical Information Center: http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifie....

[29] Race, Jeffrey, The War Comes to Long An, Univ. of California Press, Los Angeles, 1972, passim.

[30] Ibid, pg. 126.

[31] In the Midst of Wars, Edward Geary Lansdale,  Harper Row, 1972, pg. 356.

[32] Lewis Sorley, A Better War, Harcourt, Inc, 1999, New York, Ch. 23, “The Final Days,” passim. 

[33] Andrew Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1986.

[34] Andrew Krepinevich, Pacification in Vietnam, 2004, pg. 5.

[35] Motivational Training in a Counterinsurgency is a roughly typed, ten-page memo which is untitled and undated but written before January 1966.

[36] Sorely,  pg. 69.

[37]   Ibid, pg. 218.

[38]   Ibid, pg. 14.

 

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I aplogize for the delay in responding. I am managing the start up of two companies, and my time has just been too limited until recently. Thanks, Peter Schaefer

Bill C:

Bill thanks for the comment. You raise a critical point, and I agree with Kilcullen's analysis, but I disagree with his conclusion. There is no question that a good part of the insurgency in Afghanistan is counter-revolutionary or anti-modern. However, my objection is mostly the social aspects of what we are trying to do in the name of economic development. If we must do something, I suppose the introduction of better farming practices or building a farm-to-market road is OK.
But should we be trying to imp0se our social vision on others? I suppose as an ethical and a PR matter we probably have no choice. Can we occupy a country and allow women to be treated as less than cattle? Probably not. So the question is, how do we do it? Rewrite the constitution to reflect our values? Well, allow me to quote from a chapter I wrote in Stability Operations and State Building (US Army Strategic Studies Inst., 2008):
"...the 1964 Afghan constitution was...liberal and modern. It spoke about 'life, liberty and property protected by a government reflecting the will of an electorate that was not restricted by gender or ethnicity.' It spoke of liberty as a natural right, rejected unlawful search and seizure, and provided for an orderly, law-based approach to eminent domain. It created a constitutional monarchy under the king...in which women were allow to vote...had four seats reserved for them in the parliament's lower house and they served in the cabinet," (pg. 94).
Not bad. But we couldn't leave well enough alone and so we set it aside for our own system that was horribly flawed, and was "created by a tiny group of elites" that we essentially controlled. What did we get? In the name of thorough reform, rather than an incremental process, we got a thoroughly corrupt and inept Karzai, and failed state that did little of what we wanted, at least outside Kabul.

Move Forward:

These are excellent comments and mostly I agree. Our big point of agreement is the failure of aid, and this is not just our opinion, but one that is self-evident as my cite of Bill Easterly's work notes. We say we want to build a nation and so AID hands out hammers, nails and wood, but no blueprints or even a good rendering of the finished building. They just give them a list; "One roof, four walls, 8 windows....etc." Could we have succeeded with a good blueprint? Who knows? Perhaps objectives somewhat less ambitious, and substantially more realistic and less, as you say, "touchy-feely." (see my answer to Bill C, above).
Where we may disagree is over the lack of similarity between Germany/Japan and Afghanistan. Everything you say is factually correct but what I am searching for in history is parallels not facsimiles. Every country has a unique mix of culture, economics, location, and individual personalities seeking power and influence.
A criticism I had from you as well as from many colleagues is that Germany and Japan are disciplined and not especially tribal internally (though both are very tribal to the outside world, as the Japanese believed themselves an Asian master race). It is true that tribal affiliation is extremely important. But how important? Well Marcos, for example, obeyed a descending hierarchy of allegiance, starting with himself, then his family, then his cronies, then his tribe (Illocos), then his country. But to some degree, the root of them all was economic not POB or accent.
And look at Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, in the pre-war period. Alawite, Druze, Shia and Sunni lived together side by side. Yes there were enclaves, but they were not exclusive for the most part. And yes there was tension and resentments, but not the killing kind. Time again, we heard people being interviewed saying "I just don't understand, we went to their weddings, they went to ours, etc, etc." Something much more profound is going on and I would propose to you that it is economic, not tribal, just as The Troubles in Northern Ireland were economic not religious or tribal. They were all Irish Christians, after all and I have numerous quotes that it was economic. That is the Catholics were economically oppressed but the resentment was channeled into anti-Catholic perceptions when it was really just a form of economic cronyism. And today, so many leaders channel modern discontent in the Middle East into anti-Islamic when it is quite another thing.
It is certainly true that there is a strong propensity to maintain social discipline in both Japan and Germany, and no doubt it was a factor. But again, I think the tendency to cohere or fracture is economic. Look at the section in the paper titled Postwar Japan again (about mid-paper). Stability was hardly a given in the immediate period following our occupation, and I quote MacArthur in support of what I call the "Jean Valjean Principle"; "Men will fight before they starve." That would-be leaders come along and say, "You are starting because you are of this religion or that tribe, or whatever, is just human nature.
You have a few other points, let me see if I can answer them.
You say, "... where land and water rights are problematic and Taliban shadow governments at times appear to be more fair and less corrupt in dealing with such issues. " Sound familiar? Exactly the same with the communists in Vietnam, Peru, China and the Philippines. They all pretended to be on the side of the individual peasant farmer.
We disagree on a few points. For instance, you buy into the Joe Biden thesis that Iraq needs to be trifurcated. But that is just a variation on the tribalism thesis, which I argue is irrelevant in a stable, growing economy. So if I am right, the key variable (and so key objective) is economic not tribal affiliation. Lebanon and Syria the same. Monroe tried that remember? So today Liberia exists but so too does our Black president, disproving Monroe's premise. All modern states can accommodate different tribes, so long as they at least are assimilated economically and obey the laws.
The same is true of your adaptation of using community mapping or settled boundaries as a means of "repositioning" populations. But this is just a local version of tribalizing and I think it misses the point. Or at least my point. Self-mapping lets communities define themselves as they see fit, not as some outsider decrees. Imposed tenure patterns almost never work which is to say land reform (a favorite of AID and the development banks) never works (although Zimbabwe is so bad, they would probably have to set up a major land swapping program). But they are the exception. As the old proverb says, "Good fences make good neighbors" with "fence" mostly a metaphor for knowing with certainty what is yours and what is mine.

I suspect you have gathered that I am something of an economic determinist. I think people make far more out of ideology or theology than is warranted. Leaders may blather on about these things, but poor folks are just looking for someone to deliver them from oppressive injustice and poverty. In virtually all poor countries, wealth is held in land (or what happens on the land). But we don't really understand this fully. To most of us modern people land provides shelter, not a livelihood. And for us, land is safe and fungible. House burned down? The "good hands guy" shows up the next day with a check. Gotta move? You sell your house and buy another. But to a peasant farmer squatting on public land, the bulldozers (or the land sharks) can arrive at any time.

But to a peasant farmer, land is the difference between living and dying. There is nothing more valuable to him than land. A Filipino peasant can build a crude shelter with nipa palms in an hour, and a rough bamboo-frame house in a day. So you could burn his house every week, and he will still be able to farm for six days out of seven. But take away his land, and he will die. There is no greater gift that you can give to a peasant than land to farm, and no greater loss than becoming landless. We miss that point at our peril.

Bill M:

I think focusing on corruption is important but can be confusing. We have to distinguish between corruption which facilitates essential government services and predatory corruption which impoverishes people and destroys whole economies. Both are illegal, but the latter is profoundly unjust and when you impose an unjust regime on poor that leads to greater poverty, you create the two key conditions for rebellion.
Small corruption -- the small bite or mordida as the Mexicans call it -- is often viewed as a fee or a fine, and frequently a defense from the far more predatory alternative (going to court, for instance). Think of the cop who pulls someone over because their tires are bald. You can pay a few dollars to the cop, who will let you go, or go to court and probably pay a larger formal fine, and possibly have your car impounded and then have to buy good tires on top of it.
And as to your specific point about the teachings of the DOD Postgrad schools, I have no doubt that there are societies where informal payments (bribes) that facilitate widely agreed-upon objectives are institutionalized or socialized. As a result, this system of payoffs is not always considered corruption, as we might define it. In so those cases, a new rule-of-law regime may be a hard sell to traditional societies who are adverse to change. Now, I haven't studied any nation that fits this pattern, but I have no doubt that there are at least large parts of some countries where the tribal model of more arbitrary payments to individuals is preferred to a modern law-based society. But this is almost always because the government is corrupt, so formal adjudication of laws is corrupt as well.
Is Afghanistan opposed to the rule of law because they prefer tribal or sharia courts? Well in poll after poll the Afghans decry the endemic corruption there, so I suspect they would like a mixed system.
In some cases there might even be toleration for grand mal corruption (grand mal actually refers to brain seizures, but I have adopted it because corruption is a form of seizure) so long as the goodies drift down to "nourish" the roots too. Marcos was actually pretty good at spreading the wealth, at least in the beginning, but then all his pals got into the act independently, and corruption became a free-for-all, with little sharing and so with little support anywhere.
I make the case that we misunderstand the "rule of law" objective by focusing on it as primarily a response to crime, when in fact its primary benefit to society its creation of predictability in commerce. That is, the kind of rules that govern transactions and protect property which, if enforced somewhat fairly, are widely followed out of self-interest. Cultural anthropologists (eg. Jane Jacobs) now believe that cities were formed before agricultural settlements. Only when cities existed to facilitate commerce between settlements, was it possible for settled agriculture to come to pass.
Trade allows specialization which created the explosion of neolithic productivity and wealth. But they needed rules in order to trade and so they needed government. And yes, of course, they needed enforcement mechanisms too, which is probably the seed from which states grew (we don't really know for sure since states predated writing, and thus history but their formation myths -- eg. taming the waters -- are economic).
So to make two points. DOD schools are wrong; corruption is a major driver of insurgency since it destroys confidence in the central government (note, again, my discussion of Vietnam). DOD, or at least parts of the Bush administration, and specifically Paul Wolfowitz is also wrong when he (and many others) said that poverty does not breed terrorism, pointing to the relative affluence of the 9-11 hijackers and, for that matter, wealthy Osama bin Ladin.
However, it is pretty obvious that what is at the foundation of this turmoil in the Middle East is economics and the sense of injustice is that draws the educated, more modern terrorists to the cause. De Soto interviewed Shining Path Marxists in Peruvian jails. To a man, they knew nothing of Marxism or Leninism. They knew poverty and, more to the point, hopelessness. That leaders like OBL, Ho Chi Minh and Mao tse Tung used poverty (or landlessness) to achieve political ends is no surprise and changes nothing in what I have said. The poverty in Palestinian camps is profound and, directly or indirectly, is the breeding ground for most of those Muslims globally who believe that the West cares little or nothing for this misery, and thus little or nothing for Muslims.
By the way, I am not taking their side in saying this, but only pointing out the ingredients used to cook this mess. The main ingredient in this stew is economics, and the real culprits are the Middle Eastern leaders who, to a man, run corrupt, mercantilist (pre-modern) states that are being left behind by the rest of the world.
In note #21 I cite the best article on this that I have read is from Newsweek in 2002 entitled "Slow Death": http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2002/10/06/slow-death.html. It is worth reading.

Clausewitz said:

"To win a war one must understand it -- neither mistaking it for -- nor turning it into something that is alien to its nature."

Kilcullen has suggested that we look to such experts as C.E. Callwell to understand the nature of the current conflicts.

Callwell, in his "Small Wars," does not pull any punches:

"The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences. Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in regions afar off. The trader heralds, almost as a matter of course, the coming of the soldier, and the commercial enterprise, in the end, leads to conquest."

Thus, we must consider that the nature of the current conflict is one in which, once again:

a. Great nations.

b. Seeking to expand in remote quarters of the globe.

c. Send out their traders and their soldiers to bring civilization to regions afar off.

d. And where these new "pioneers of civilization" -- like those that came before them -- must come to "accept the consequences" of their actions, to wit: to be dogged by small wars (which today can reach into the great nations' homeland).

Nowhere here do you see Callwell suggesting that the populations who fight back against his forces do so because they are poverty stricken, have no jobs, lack property rights and laws, etc.

Callwell, it would seem, knows that these populations fight back for the exact same reason that any other state or society would: To defend their sovereignty, to defend their way of life and to resist the state and societal changes that the great nations, seeking expansion, are trying to impose upon them.

And so Callwell adhere's to Clausewitz's guidence ("to win a war one must understand it -- neither mistaking it for, nor turning it into, something that is alien to its nature").

We should probably do the same thing.

Peter, appreciate your response and I only have for one comment about your tboughts on poverty and terrorism. This is probably the only thing I agree with Wolfowitz on. While not irrelevant it doesn't create terrorism. I don't know if it is because Americans are largely naive or arrogant, but just like we have true believers in our SOF ranks based on what we believe and are wllling to die fighting for those beliefs, others have different beliefs they are willing to fight for that has nothing to do with poverty. It is not because they want to be like us. We sbould address economic issues because adversaries will leverage them, but they are not always the reason people fight.

I look forward, in due course, to resonding to all the comments. I have briefly read what is there so far and am delighted that the piece has generated such a thoughtful response and look forward to further discussion. Peter Schaefer

The very first lines of this item are a quote, as follows:

"All anti-colonial struggles are at the core about two things, repossession of land and restoring the centrality of indigenous culture ..."

It would appear, however, that today we are not embarked upon such a struggle.

Rather the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan today would seem to be one in which the goal of the insurgent is to:

a. Retain -- not repossess -- his land. And

b. Retain -- not restore -- the centrality of his indigenous culture.

Thus, the struggle would not appear to be "anti-colonial" in the sense that Afghanistan had, at some earlier time, been successfully colonized and now a REVOLUTIONARY struggle had begun for the purpose of de-colonization.

Rather might the struggle in Afghanistan today not be better characterized, for example, as a "pre-colonial" conflict, in the sense that:

a. Afghanistan has not been successfully colonized in the past or the present. And that

b. The population would seem to be undertaking a RESISTANCE effort, yet again, to avoid colonization (neo-colonization is probably the better term today?) and, thereby, undertaking a struggle to RETAIN its land relationships, RETAIN its freedom and RETAIN its indigenous culture?

("To win a war one must understand it -- neither mistaking it for, nor turning it into -- something that is alien to its nature.")

From Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgeny Redux:"

"Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier -- a political relationship opposite that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency."

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/uscoin/counterinsurgency_redux.pdf top of page 3.

Should we understand that what Kilcllen is saying here is that the "revolutionary change" that the counterinsurgent (the United States, et. al) wishes to impose on Afghanistan (and others) is modernization? To wit: adaptations (such as the rule of law) which threaten the heretofore status quo relationship between populations and their land, their government and their culture? These efforts logically leading to -- not "success" -- but, instead, much wider, much more difficult and much more long-running war(s)?

Mr. Schaefer, thanks for your service and agree with Bill M that this is an excellent effort. Was tracking with you throughout until historical insurgencies and post WWII-occupation were compared to post Iraq and Afghanistan insurgencies. In an era of Moore's Law and before that the rapid evolution from horses to horsepower and Wright Flyer to stealth aircraft, past is only prologue when broad generalities are compared and unique nuances are overlooked or given short shrift.

In Vietnam, as in Afghanistan, we used Provincial Reconstruction Teams to attempt to “clear and hold,” although we now add the word “develop” to this slogan. And as in Vietnam, instead of having a coherent strategy that is soundly applied, what we have is laundry-list of vague nation-building objectives, hardly different from those which define our general approach to foreign aid, a program that has consistently failed to stimulate the rise of modern economies over decades of peacetime aid beginning after WWII.

This is the first I've seen the term "develop" instead of "build." But agree that foreign aid has largely failed, particularly when viewed in the context of large projects attempted as we hold and secure infrastructure against continuing insurgent attacks. We had PRTs from the start in Afghanistan and little else outside Kabul initially because we had inadequate forces there. This and rejection of any early attempted reconciliation with the Taliban led to their resurgence.

Perhaps if "build" or "develop" applied more to rapid expansion of security forces, the third COIN precept might be more effective. Host nation security force jobs spark economic activity over broad areas just as U.S. Defense spending improves economies in all 50 states, particularly in non-coastal states with far fewer civil sector jobs. Our foreign aid attempts to artificially enhance economies and create civil sector jobs often are squandered by powerful officials, appointed bureaucrats, local leaders, criminals, and insurgents.

This parallels futile U.S. attempts to "build" alternative energy and "shovel-ready" infrastructure jobs (which typically should be state/ locally funded and via gas taxes) at home. Even civil-government infrastructure projects like toll roads and bridges, or infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline and off-shore drilling are not simply-accomplished at home. Now try to build roads, mine, or drill/explore in a war zone with only SF/SOF security, planes overhead, and ships well off-shore. "Build" seldom succeeds rapidly at home due to environmentalists, politics, and bureaucracy. Abroad, shovel-ready jobs are deterred by lack of security, local/centralized corruption and patronage, and insufficient home-grown knowledge of how to "build" effectively. The result is large contracts awarded to large companies who subcontract repeatedly with each intermediary (and the Taliban) taking a chunk.

And just as in post-Tet Vietnam, we have now shifted our COIN doctrine in Afghanistan from one that is “terrain-centric” to one which is “population-centric.” This approach seeks to “pacify” the population rather than just kill insurgents, although we now call it “nation-building” instead of “pacification.”

Yet this does not appear to be a policy failure of either Vietnam or Afghanistan. The VC were pretty irrelevant at the end, however the NVA still mattered and our failure to support South Vietnam with air attacks in 1975 as we did in 1972 was largely the reason the South was overrun. An ARVN and CORDS/Phoenix security establishment existed then to handle the VC just as the VSO/ALP and night raids by Afghan commandos can handle local Taliban who don't mass. If parts of the Pakistani Army and ISI, Haqqanis, TTP, LeT, HiG, and Afghan Taliban do mass in village areas, it will require an effective ANA and U.S. airpower far outnumbering the 30 ALP in any town.

In Afghanistan we used the UN as cover and rushed to reestablish sovereignty rather than good government. Japan however did not regain sovereignty for seven years yet she never lost self-government.

Unmentioned is both Germany and Japan had singular cultures precluding internal civil war. The people of those cultures also were united in defeat. In contrast, both winning and losing factions existed in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as not everyone will suffer identically in a war to solve Syria. Many military-aged males died in Japan and Germany to rob any insurgency of manpower. Large U.S. and coalition forces occupied both Japan and Germany, and neither were imposing land masses to spread occupation forces too thinly. Japan and Germany lacked neighbors ready to help them engage in insurgency and had ample neighbors and occupation forces ready to fight back if they had.

Now compare that to the Middle East and south Asia around Afghanistan. Youth are major portions of the population of both vanquished foes. Multiple ethnic and religious differences exist that create natural conflict over who should dominate particular areas. We no longer carpet or fire bomb so the number of "sticks" available to halt insurgency is limited from an enemy-centric perspective, even when we know where the enemy is. In many cases that enemy is hidden in sanctuary across international borders and receives direct aid just as the North Vietnamese continued to benefit from Chinese and Soviet aid even after ours was pulled. Iran and Pakistan won't stop assisting their hold on power after we get tired and take our money and forces homes.

Where you are spot on is the fact that we rushed prematurely to restore sovereignty to two nations whose boundaries were created by colonialism. These were flawed borders grouping dissimilar peoples into claimed nation-states that never were likely to function effectively regardless of who ruled. Both "nations" needed to be split up just as Syria requires that treatment. Only then would new elections and restoration of sovereignty make sense.

The first step to do this in Afghanistan would be to institute a system of land tenure based on the rule of law, which provides and incentive to have neighbors work together to settle their own boundaries and then deposit this settled data in a public land registry. Those with a presence in rural Afghanistan – military or civilian – can help villages to establish property registries using satellite mapping and aerial photos.

This returns to how and if "build" or "develop" should be part of COIN. Agricultural land and water, and urban/rural housing and business property are key aspects preventing the Balkanization of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria into smaller countries. In Iraq the major problems were Baghdad and the location of oil resources, largely missing in Sunni areas. During the insurgency after the war, ethnic cleansing forced Sunnis to move from Shiite-controlled areas and vice versa. The same likely would result in Syria where many cities have multiple ethnicities/religions. Syria also has limited oil revenue and most of it is in the east with routes to the sea through troubled areas like Homs.

Berlin provides a historical example of how to partially resolve the problem of multi-ethnic cities. The coalition built walls around Sadr City and other areas to protect groups of people and limit death squad movements. New borders could run up to and include portions of cities in Syria with walls constructed and access into adjacent areas controlled.

In Afghanistan, with the exception of Kabul, the other larger cities are more-dominated by particular ethnicities which is why warlords developed in the first place. However, it also has large rural areas with dispersed millions in smaller towns where land and water rights are problematic and Taliban shadow governments at times appear to be more fair and less corrupt in dealing with such issues. Then there are the 2.5 million Kuchis who are largely nomadic like the Bedouin and cause land disputes by the very nature of their temporary movements.

That's why it would appear that with modern computing power, registries and photos/data about arable land and water could be placed into data bases to offer opportunities for ethnic groups to reposition to other areas of similar peoples using offered land swaps. Businesses could be swapped as well. It also seems that funds and livestock could compensate those who accept such swaps, particularly if one party's swap is less acceptable than another's. Perhaps more could be done to use COPs to locate adjacent to town generators, cell-phone towers, schools and clinics, government offices, and agricultural access to things like large refrigerated structures and storage of grains, etc.

Silicon Valley venture capital applies to technology and world-wide developed countries and markets. It does not translate well to very small and agricultural businesses in poor countries with ample corruption and no access to basics like electricity. Ambitious projects and aid are countered by families with subsistence revenue and no equity to secure any loan. The idea that we would be repaid or investors would reap benefits befitting their risk is illogical. The big loser would be U.S. taxpayers just as we continue losing on alternative energy trying to pick winners that can't compete with the conventional energy market. We could, however, help Afghans and others subsist better and fight less if we can determine how to get them land and water in areas with logical groupings of cultures/ethnicities/religions that are less likely to fight one another.

In future conflicts we must consider separating dissimilar people as part of stability operations before restoring any new sovereignty using new elections and security forces. Otherwise continued civil war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide will accomplish the same result killing the weak or sending them off as poor refugees to adjacent countries ill-equipped to deal with them. It's time to be more Machiavellian when we employ military force or we will continue to have post major war insurgencies that cost too much in blood and treasure. These conflicts are not the military's fault or that of ground forces. They are problems that a less "touchy-feely" Executive Branch, State Department, USAID, and US Agricultural Department should help address. U.S. diplomats and government aid groups must depart big city safe zones in greater numbers to help create newly-split nations with representative governments after major combat operations cease in colonial-boundaried lands.

One of best articles I have read on SWJ in recent months. Another paper that challenges what many believe to be a flawed COIN doctrine. Perhaps a worthwhile study endeavor would be to explore how we create myths that become deeply embedded in our professional culture? Although this flies in the face of what most of us have experienced in the real world, one myth that is promoted at one of our DOD Postgraduate Schools is that corruption is an irrelevant factor for the counterinsurgent, because it is simply part of the culture. This is taken to the extreme, because corruption is more often than not a key driver of insurgency. Some minor forms of corruption may be acceptable, but to dismiss corruption so arrogantly is dangerously misleading. I suspect the reason this falsehood is so readily embraced is that addressing it would require challenging the State architecture we're attempting to build that Peter addresses in his article above. We can't re-create history, but we can make a better effort to learn from it.

"Our own research…found … that there was very little evidence of aid projects winning hearts and minds or promoting stability. This should not come as a surprise; after all, the major factors perceived to be fueling insecurity have little to do with a lack of social services or infrastructure. Instead, one of the main reasons given by the Afghans we interviewed for the growing insurgency was their corrupt and unjust government."